Opoto! ‘White Man’ arrives at Yele

19 Jul

Journal #2

The Project Yele Team has just completed its first week in  Sierra Leone. A lot has happened since.

After 3 days in the country, the first 3 members of the team to travel to the country have ventured through Freetown on their own.

Market in Freetown

Last Thursday, Mauricio, Tori and Paul visited Big Market in Freetown – the oldest market in the country –with the delicate mission of finding underclothing for Tori, as her suitcase is still astray.

Having trouble expressing their needs, and finally recurring to showing Mauricio’s own underwear, the women of the market provided Tori with a range of male boxers… Better than nothing!

Once this mission accomplished, the team finally headed out of Freetown for more serious matters, towards the provinces of Sierra Leone  – off to Yele! The journey took about 6 hours  – 5 of them on a decent (and only) highway in the country, while the 6th was spent struggling through a jungle road. Most of this, under the tropical and VERY heavy rains of Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone: Work in Progress

On the way, a lot of Sierra Leone’s advancements, and flaws, were visible:

Near Freetown, the team witnessed a large project in which individuals constructed small shops. A large amount of land was made available by the government for people to create distribution centers, as a consequence of a national law limiting the number of trucks allowed into Freetown. Also, through the car windows the team could see an important increase of mining activity by companies such as African Minerals or Dawnes.

Locals traveling by truck

Moreover, new power lines and train tracks were built, following the same direction as the highway. On the other hand, the countryside was largely left untouched – no cultivation, only bushland…

Arrival at Yele

As the car approached rural towns, the shouts of “Opoto! Opoto!” could be heard. “White man! White man!”. It was clear the team was reaching its final destination: Yele.

"Opotos" Tori and Paul in Yele

While Tori and Mauricio were struck by a wave of different emotions, finally seeing the place and people they had been work for so hard, Paul returned for the second time to find the place changed in many ways: The Lion Heart Foundation had built a beautiful compound with a view over the river, where a hydro structure and civil works are taking place. The team toured the refurbished water purification facilities, the newly painted water tower and the Lion Heart Medical center – none of which existed in 2007!

This time, they will  be staying in a solid house, with the luxury of 4 hours of electricity per day, announced with the shout of “CHARGING TIMEEE!!” each time the generator is turned on.

Once settled in Yele, on Friday, the team members quickly got to work: they visited the facilities of the Dutch NGO, Lion Heart Foundation, in Yele as well as the impressive palm oil factory. In this factory, the oil from the palm fruit s converted into palm oil, whose byproduct is itself turned into soap. Besides, any waste is recycled as fuel for the process  – the production is a closed loop, and generates zero waste!

The long quest for a satellite connection

Meanwhile, the team was asked to fix the satellite connection,which has been down for several days, and made access to Internet impossible. The “opotos”, faced some difficulties, and decided to head to Makeni on the following day, in order to find solutions.

Satellite connection in Yele

One and a half hour away on a very rough road, the team headed the next day to a nunnery in Makeni that uses the same Internet satellite system as Yele. After much troubleshooting, which included an hour-long quest for a wrench, they disassembled the system and took it with them. The nuns didn’t use it anyway… They headed back to Yele and eventually managed to solve the problem and get Internet access, finally able to stay in contact with the rest of the Project Yele team in Europe and the US.

Getting started! Working with the local artisans

During their first days in Yele, the team visited Junction, the future site for the Community Bazaar, spoke to potential shop owners as well as the owner of the construction company, discussing costs, materials and other issues relevant to the kickstart of the pilot project.

Boy chugging sprite in Yele

Time was also dedicated to considering effective ways of using local products and to accomplish the clean energy goals, through:  1) use agricultural waste to turn into charcoal brickets (clean and cheap fuel) and 2) make layered clay pots and use them as cooled storage. They immediately got to work with local artisans to produce the tools needed, finding clay and welding metal parts together, and testing the different kinds of fuels.

After a few attempts, and a marriage proposal, the weekend was productive, and included several R-rated conversations given the new meaning discovered for the word “rubber” in Yele…

If you wish to know more about Project Yele or to contact the team, please visit the website, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


5 Responses to “Opoto! ‘White Man’ arrives at Yele”

  1. Lindsay Kelly August 17, 2011 at 00:49 #

    Hi Paul and Tori! I really enjoyed hearing about all your adventures thus far in Sierra Leone! Niki and I will soon be speaking to the incoming Tepper Freshmen and will, of course, be spreading the word of the community bazaar. Keep up the fantastic work and I am excited to hear more this fall!


  2. Leid Zejnilovic July 28, 2011 at 16:18 #

    OPOTOzinhos- STAY WELL and keep it up. Hope to see you soon in good health and content knowing that electricity energizes life in Yele.

  3. Anonymous July 23, 2011 at 02:03 #

    Hi Team, I am glad you made it safely to Yele. Interestingly, it has been much hot and humid here in washington, DC than Yele with temperatures soaring to 105 degrees for the past three days. In fact Saturday will almost be 110 degrees hot. Just seeing your pictures in Yele gives me goose bumps. You guys are great and I pray that all goes well. If you ever have time, visit my village, Patfu Mayawa just three miles away. You will get to meet my brothers and sisters there, and am sure they will give you enough coconut water to keep you cool. Keep up the good work, and I will try to call one of these days.

  4. Caroline van der Graaf-Scheffer July 20, 2011 at 18:05 #

    Dear Paul, Tori and Mauricio! We are proud of you: your efforts during the last years, your strong will to accomplish this project. Keep up the good work! It’s wonderfull that we are able to be your followers through your blog. Thanks and take care, we know it can be rough and tough sometimes. Caroline van der Graaf-Scheffer (Stichting Lion Heart Foundation)

    • projectyele2011 July 21, 2011 at 13:51 #

      Thank you so much for your support, Caroline! The trip is going well and a lot of things are being accomplished. We will keep you updated as much often as possible!
      Thanks again, and take care.

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